Section 1 — Duty to provide free school meals

Education (School Meals) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 2 – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:45 pm on 11th June 2003.

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Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

If politics is the art of the possible, we should embrace the opportunity that the bill—originally intended to close a loophole—presents for a better deal for Scotland's children. The Scottish National Party is disappointed that the Government did not take the opportunity that it was offered last week to turn the problem of having to use legislation to close that loophole into an opportunity to extend free school meals to more children. I acknowledge that it has attempted to extend provision further to the children of carers and students with savings of more than £8,000, but we will argue that it could and should go somewhat further.

Because the Executive has chosen not to take up the invitation to scope what is possible, it is left to the Parliament at stage 2 to push and persuade so that we can amend the bill and extend provision. Although we gave the Government a chance to initiate such a move, it has not taken it.

As I indicated in my point of order, the problem with the bill's scope is that we are restricted to lodging amendments that are related to benefits and tax credits. We are frustrated by the fact that we cannot directly affect families' incomes in the bill; however, we must deal with what we have before us at the moment. Unfortunately, we cannot lodge an amendment that seeks to allow children of a family whose income is below the Scottish median income to have free school meals. If such an amendment had been accepted, we would have been able to close the gap, where 30 per cent of children live in poverty but only 20 per cent of children are entitled to free school meals.

The Government intends to exercise power through regulations to set the income ceiling at which children would be eligible for free school meals. However, we need another route to address that matter and, when he speaks to a later amendment, Brian Adam will put forward proposals that would allow us to raise the income threshold of £13,230.

As drafted, the bill leaves us no room to address the matter on the basis of income. Furthermore, it leaves us no room to address nutritional issues. That is a fundamental omission. It is important to point out that the absence of a legal means of enforcing nutritional standards will have a major impact on our assessment of Tommy Sheridan's amendments. The argument for universality is as much predicated on the need for legally enforceable nutritional standards as it is on the assumption that it is a lever to tackle poverty. However, amendments to the bill on nutritional grounds cannot be accepted, no matter whether they relate to legally enforceable standards or to the supply of locally produced food or even—as we discussed at stage 1—organic food.

Given that the bill has cawed the feet from under one aspect of the free school meals for all argument, we are left purely and simply with the issue of tackling poverty and of how we spend almost £300 million. Do we spend it on feeding the children of millionaires; on childcare in order to tackle poverty; or on health promotion from birth onwards to ensure that children want to eat healthily in the first place whether school meals are free or not?

As I have explained, the SNP wants to take a constructive approach to extending free school meals, but it can do so only by tackling the issue of benefits. As a result, amendment 1 would extend free school meals to pupils with a parent on a new deal scheme. As we know, one of the difficult periods that families must deal with is the transition from unemployment to work. Indeed, that is where the poverty trap can be sprung.

Amendment 2 would extend free school meals to families that receive housing and council tax benefits. I acknowledge that many of those families could be covered by the child tax credit; however, that cannot be guaranteed. Because many families might not be covered, we need to provide a safety net.

I hope that the Executive will sincerely take on board amendment 3, which relates to the disability living allowance and is an attempt to support pupils and parents with disabilities. Unfortunately, it is not clear whether all families that are dependent on disability benefits will qualify for free school meals under the new child tax credit eligibility. As a result, amendment 3 seeks to guarantee that those families are covered. Because of the basket of benefits that they receive, they might not qualify for the child tax credit.

Amendment 3 seeks to ensure that dependent children of parents who receive disability living allowance are eligible for free school meals. Living with a disability is expensive; furthermore, there are many hidden costs of disability. However, because of that additional income for support, other allowances that parents or pupils with disabilities receive might be lost. They might be just over the income threshold, even though they need that additional income to pay for special requirements that arise from their disability. Research indicates that under a third of families that live with disability receive free school meals and that few local authorities use their discretionary power to extend the scope of free school meal entitlement.

Amendment 5 would ensure that pupils who receive disability living allowance qualify for free school meals. According to Capability Scotland, fewer than one in five households with a disabled child receive school meals.

The SNP is presenting a pragmatic, practical and possible approach to the political process. In that spirit, I urge the chamber to do what is possible and support these amendments.

I move amendment 1.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

We find ourselves unable to support this group of amendments. As far as amendment 1 is concerned, the bill already covers those who receive income support or income-based jobseekers allowance. Those are two groups whose need is clear and, as I have said, they are already in receipt of free school meals, so we do not support amendment 1.

With regard to amendments 2 and 3, there will always be a great debate about where the cut-off point should be, but the bill widens eligibility for free school meals by encompassing children of student parents or carers who have savings of more than £8,000, but who are on very low incomes. The bill could potentially increase the number of eligible children by 7,000. We believe that the bill's provisions are adequate and we see no need for extending them at this stage.

We are not persuaded that it is necessary to extend eligibility. There will always be an argument about where to draw the line, but, as I said, we feel that the bill's provisions are adequate and therefore cannot support amendments 1, 2 and 3. We do not support amendments 4 and 5 because they are consequential to unnecessary amendments.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party 3:00 pm, 11th June 2003

Does the member accept that the figure of 30 per cent of children living in poverty is accurate? Does he accept that at present only 20 per cent of those children are eligible for free school meals and that the SNP amendments represent a genuine attempt to bridge that gap? Does he recognise those opportunities to bridge the gap?

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

I said already that we are not persuaded that eligibility needs to be extended further. As it stands, the bill extends eligibility, which I welcome—there is a well-proven case in that context. We are not persuaded that it is necessary to go further than that at this stage.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

It is strange that Lord James said three times that he was not persuaded of the need to extend eligibility, but he has not yet given us a reason why he is not so persuaded. Let me try to persuade him.

It is a fact of life that child poverty is a key feature of Scottish society in 2003. The Executive's figures state that about 30 per cent of all children in Scotland are living on or near the poverty line, as defined officially by both the Executive and the United Kingdom Government. As Brian Adam pointed out, only two thirds of those described officially as being in poverty are eligible for free school meals, even after the original amendments introduced by the bill.

I recognise that, currently, there is not a majority in the chamber in favour of universality and I am on record as regretting that. However, the purpose of the SNP amendments is focused on closing the poverty gap so that the one third of children who live in poverty whom are not currently eligible for free school meals—10 per cent of all children—will become eligible. I appeal to the Executive, and I even appeal to the Tories and everyone else in the chamber: if we are serious about the elimination of child poverty in Scotland, rather than just paying lip service to the idea, it would be absolutely ridiculous to deny access to free school meals to the 10 per cent of our children who live in poverty, according to the definition of the Executive and the UK Government.

The purpose of the amendments is to ensure that poor children get free school meals. If we are to continue means testing for free school meals—it is clear that we will—such means testing should always err in favour of the poor. The great problem with means testing in this country is that it always errs in favour of those who are not poor.

This meeting began with time for reflection led by Maggie Lunan, who quoted someone who said that we had got it wrong. I say to the Executive that, if it has got this wrong, it should right the situation by backing the SNP amendments.

Photo of Colin Fox Colin Fox SSP

I rise to support this group of amendments. As members are all too aware, the Parliament is criticised for a lack of ambition and, in the first four years, it was criticised for having failed to meet the expectations of Scots who sought to establish it.

Today we have a debate about the Parliament's potential to make a real, profound and long-lasting improvement to the lives of Scots and to the face of Scotland. We well know—and the election results on 1 May confirmed it—that people outside would like to see this Parliament step up to the plate and grasp the challenges that are before us, including child poverty and the dietary health of our youngsters. Today we have another opportunity to face down those claims of timidity with a bold initiative to end the scourge of child poverty and the poor dietary health of our young people, but we appear to be bottling the question yet again.

I welcome Fiona Hyslop's amendments to extend the provision of free schools meals as widely as possible to include as many of Scotland's youngsters as we can, but I also believe that the Parliament must go further and face the fact that there is a stigma. As Lord James Douglas-Hamilton and Alex Neil have mentioned, many of the youngsters who are entitled to free school meals feel ashamed to take them. It is incumbent on the Parliament to consider other provisions where that shame does not appear. Child benefit, for example, has a far greater take-up rate than free school meals have. I believe that something is badly wrong. That stigma must be addressed, and we should try with all our might and main to achieve the same levels of take-up for free school meals as exist for child benefit.

I accept the important point that was made during the stage 1 debate—that the Parliament must examine the quality and attractiveness of the free school meals. However, I disagree with the point made by Tory members, which was that, if offered chips every day, the youngsters of Scotland would choose chips every day. In my opinion, there is a natural inquisitiveness in young people, and they understand the enjoyment that is to be found in discovering new foods. Quite frankly, chips every day would be, as the young people themselves might tell us, boring. The poor eating habits of young people now cause real concerns among our health professionals with regard to levels of obesity in the population and the increasing cost of obesity-related ill health.

Yesterday, the Parliament was faced with a bill of £375 million for a new Parliament building, and the population at large groaned when they heard the news. Today, we have the opportunity to introduce free school meals across the whole country for half of that cost. We have the chance to turn the bad news that comes from this Parliament into good news for the children of Scotland.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

I support Fiona Hyslop's amendments. It is true that those amendments cover a range of youngsters who may already be covered by existing legislation. However, the amendments are an attempt to bridge, to an extent, the gap between the 30 per cent of children who live in poverty and the 20 per cent of children who are currently eligible for free school meals. As Colin Fox said, not all those who are eligible currently take up the opportunity. Only somewhere between 70 and 75 per cent of those who are eligible actually apply for free school meals. We need to maximise the number of those who are eligible as well as the number of those who take up the offer.

I make a particular plea to ministers at least to give active consideration to the amendments on disability living allowance. External advice from the appropriate organisation suggests that a very marginal increase in cost would make a real difference to families in receipt of that allowance, either where the youngsters themselves are disabled or where the parents are disabled. That would be a significant step forward and a recognition of the fact that those who are less able, in what is probably the worst sense of that phrase, would be helped by those amendments.

If the minister does not feel that he can support those amendments today, will he at least assure us that, before the matter is reviewed—all legislation is inevitably reviewed—he will give active consideration to such amendments? At least the legislation allows an opportunity for changes to be made in the future, if not today. The amendments would not be the major leap forward that perhaps all of us would like to see, but they would be significant for those who are not currently eligible but will become eligible.

I support amendments 1 to 5.

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

I ask the Parliament to reject amendments 1 to 5. As I said during the stage 1 debate, we are not seeking to extend eligibility beyond the current levels, apart from to the 7,000 people who were mentioned in the previous debate: students and carers on low incomes but with savings. With respect, Fiona Hyslop has lodged a series of amendments without much—if any—idea of how many children would be brought into entitlement or what the costs would be.

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

No, not at the moment.

Fiona Hyslop is asking the Parliament to sign up to amendments without any clear idea of their impact or their costs. I heard her say that she understands that there would be some overlap between the categories of people who would be covered.

I remind the Parliament of the Auditor General for Scotland's advice just last month in his report "Moving to Mainstreaming". He said:

"Parliament must have a robust analysis of the potential financial consequences when they are considering Bills and amendments".

He went on to say:

"Parliament should consider how best to ensure that there is full consideration of relevant costs when Bills and amendments are scrutinised".

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I remind the minister that we are discussing fast-track legislation. Last week, we asked the Government to come forward with different options, as it has the resources to do so. I understand that the number of disabled pupils in question, for example, would be around 12,000. There is certainly a price that is worth paying by the Parliament to ensure that they are supported by us in respect of free school meals.

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

Obviously, we have asked officials to consider the SNP's amendments but, apart from in one instance, it has not been possible to determine how much the amendments would cost or who would be covered by them. Such matters should be the subject of full consultation. Fiona Hyslop mentioned last week's debate. Then, I made the point time and again that the bill proposes a technical amendment to correct an unintended consequence of the tax credit system. We want to ensure that our children do not lose out on their current entitlement.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

I hear what the minister is saying; however, if the problem is lack of time, will he give an undertaking that he will ask his officials to consider those children who are officially defined by the Executive as being in poverty but who do not qualify for free school meals? Will he also undertake to bring forward an additional bill to close the gap to cover those who are living in poverty and who are not entitled to free school meals?

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

No. It is obvious that budgetary considerations exist. I will not give such an undertaking in the context of the bill in question because, as I have said, it is a technical amendment to correct an unintended consequence. In doing so, it extends eligibility by around 7,000 people.

The Executive does not accept that extension of entitlement is necessary on either health or poverty grounds. We are sure that we are targeting the children who are in absolute poverty with the current level of entitlement. Provision of free school meals is only one of many measures that we have in place to tackle child poverty in Scotland.

I think that Mr Adam mentioned extending take-up. He will recall that, as I said during the stage 1 debate last week, we have put £56 million into implementing the recommendations of the expert panel on school meals. We hope that those measures will improve take-up.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP 3:15 pm, 11th June 2003

One of the recommendations of the expert panel was to try to increase the uptake of free school meal provision. The panel recognised that the uptake is not high enough and wanted to improve it. Does the minister accept that the capital cost of increasing the uptake of free school meals will exist whether or not we increase entitlement?

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

I cannot give a specific answer because the situation depends on the circumstances of each school or local authority. There might be a capital cost in extending the take-up of the provision, but local authorities would deal with that matter through their capital allocations and grant-aided expenditure.

We believe that there are other, better means of tackling child poverty in Scotland, which we are tackling in partnership with Westminster. For example, one of the best routes out of poverty is access to work. The Executive is investing £20 million of social justice funding in child care to help parents in the most disadvantaged areas get into education and employment. We are working to improve Scotland's skills base through programmes such as the education maintenance allowance, modern apprenticeships and training for work. We are investing in education, working to improve health among children in their early years and in the teenage transition stage, raising housing standards and building safe and strong communities. Parliament should not underestimate the considerable progress that we have made in the past five years. We have taken 210,000 children and more than half a million Scots out of absolute poverty. I can add no more.

The bill is a fast-track one, which, as I have said time and again, will ensure that the existing entitlement to free school meals continues from the start of the next academic term. In that context, I urge members to reject amendments 1 to 5.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I cannot believe that the Executive has not found it in itself to take a small step that could make a big difference to pupils in Scotland, particularly those with disabilities. The case for the amendments that relate to disability allowance is absolute.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

I cannot believe the rank hypocrisy of Scottish National Party members. Just a few weeks ago, those members stood for election with a manifesto that did not propose to extend free school meals to a single pupil. How can they come to the chamber and be so indignant in making the case for extending free school meals, when they did not propose that in their election manifesto a few weeks ago?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Because I am indignant. Iain Smith, who is a Liberal Democrat, has just heard his party's minister say that he will not attempt to close the gap between the 30 per cent of children who live in poverty and the 20 per cent who are entitled to free school meals. The minister says that the Executive wants to deal with absolute poverty. Does that mean that relative poverty is okay? No. We lodged constructive amendments in a genuine attempt to seek a practical response. I am completely aghast that the Executive is not prepared to respond.

The minister lacks consistency. He says that the bill is a technical one and that therefore it would not be the appropriate place in which to extend eligibility for free school meals. Why, then, did he decide to extend eligibility? He used the words "apart from". I welcome that extension, but it drives a coach and horses through his argument that he is not prepared to extend eligibility. He has already given in to an element of extension—I ask him to extend the eligibility further.

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

The extension to a further 7,000 people is a result of the technical changes that have been made. It is a welcome and beneficial consequence of the changes, but we have not pushed out the eligibility criteria.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

We must consider where the lack of Executive support for my stage 2 amendments leaves us. Brian Adam's amendments 9 and 10, if agreed to, would allow us to ask the minister to come back to Parliament to justify the income threshold level of £13,000 that he has set. Ironically, we will be able to do that because of the powers in the bill that allow ministers to use their discretion.

I cannot, therefore, understand the minister's response to the request to make some effort. Although we could entrench the power by stating it in the bill, we will anyway have the opportunity through the use of the affirmative procedure to call the minister before us, should we choose to do so, to say what progress is being made on closing the gap. However, if he is already telling us that he does not want to close the gap and is not prepared to do so, now is our last chance to do it. The minister's statement is already on record.

I appeal to the Parliament to support my amendments. Perhaps they do not take us as far as we would want to go, but they are on offer now. I ask members to support particularly those amendments that would affect families with disabled children or disabled pupils. We should make the effort to show that we care and that we want to make a difference. I press amendment 1.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The question is, that amendment 1 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 3

For: Adam, Brian, Canavan, Dennis, Cunningham, Roseanna, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Fabiani, Linda, Fox, Colin, Gibson, Mr Rob, Grahame, Christine, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Kane, Rosie, Leckie, Carolyn, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, MacDonald, Margo, Martin, Campbell, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Mr Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, McFee, Mr Bruce, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Robison, Shona, Scott, Eleanor, Sheridan, Tommy, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinburne, John, Turner, Dr Jean, Welsh, Mr Andrew
Against: Aitken, Bill, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Mr Richard, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gorrie, Donald, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Monteith, Mr Brian, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Mr Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Iain, Smith, Mrs Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watson, Mike, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The result of the division is: For 30, Against 70, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 1 disagreed to.

[Amendment 2 moved—[Fiona Hyslop].]

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The question is, that amendment 2 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 4

For: Adam, Brian, Canavan, Dennis, Cunningham, Roseanna, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Fabiani, Linda, Fox, Colin, Gibson, Mr Rob, Grahame, Christine, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Kane, Rosie, Leckie, Carolyn, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, MacDonald, Margo, Martin, Campbell, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Mr Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, McFee, Mr Bruce, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Robison, Shona, Scott, Eleanor, Sheridan, Tommy, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinburne, John, Turner, Dr Jean, Welsh, Mr Andrew
Against: Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Mr Richard, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gorrie, Donald, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Monteith, Mr Brian, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Mr Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Iain, Smith, Mrs Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stone, Mr Jamie, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watson, Mike, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The result of the division is: For 30, Against 69, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 2 disagreed to.

[Amendment 3 moved—[Fiona Hyslop].]

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The question is, that amendment 3 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 5

For: Adam, Brian, Canavan, Dennis, Cunningham, Roseanna, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Fabiani, Linda, Fox, Colin, Gibson, Mr Rob, Grahame, Christine, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Kane, Rosie, Leckie, Carolyn, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, MacDonald, Margo, Martin, Campbell, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Mr Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, McFee, Mr Bruce, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Robison, Shona, Scott, Eleanor, Sheridan, Tommy, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinburne, John, Turner, Dr Jean, Welsh, Mr Andrew
Against: Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Mr Richard, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gorrie, Donald, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Monteith, Mr Brian, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Mr Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Iain, Smith, Mrs Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stone, Mr Jamie, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watson, Mike, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The result of the division is: For 30, Against 70, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 3 disagreed to.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

We go to group 2. Amendment 6, in the name of Tommy Sheridan, is grouped with amendment 7.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

During time for reflection today, a number of members will have heard a speech, to which Alex Neil has referred, that talked about those who have the courage to admit when they are wrong. I hope that the Parliament, during the coming months, will have the courage to admit that it was wrong in the previous session to reject the School Meals (Scotland) Bill. I guarantee that in this new session every MSP will have the opportunity to examine their conscience again because a new free school meals bill will be introduced by my colleague Rosie Kane and we will engage with the communities of Scotland.

Perhaps those smug members who have made catty comments and remarks should consider that the organisations that they applaud, such as Capability Scotland, One Plus, the Child Poverty Action Group, the Scottish Trades Union Congress, Unison and the Educational Institute of Scotland, are calling for the introduction of the universal provision of free school meals. Unfortunately, this particular debate does not afford the time to examine further all the issues. However, the debate allows us to examine the fact, which the minister has been unable to deny either last week or today, that the Parliament is voting to deny 100,000 children who are officially poor and whose parents are in receipt of low wages access to a free school meal under the current entitlement.

That is what members of the Executive parties are doing and that is why we believe that they are not serious about tackling poverty and child poverty. Members have the opportunity to vote to allow at least parents who live on low incomes to save money by allowing their children access to a free school meal.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

How does Mr Sheridan account for the statistic that we heard at stage 1 that, under the current rules, 25 per cent of children who currently have an entitlement to free school meals do not take it up? Mr Sheridan's proposal would result in a massive waste of hundreds of millions of pounds. How many people does Mr Sheridan think his proposal would serve? I imagine that it would not be many.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

Mr Rumbles, again, lets his mouth engage without first checking with his brain.

The idea that hundreds of millions of pounds would be wasted is nonsense. If Mr Rumbles had joined me in visiting the 36 schools that I visited last year in connection with the School Meals (Scotland) Bill, he would have heard the children, parents and organisations who stated categorically that the main reason for the lack of uptake of free school meals is the stigma that is attached to the current free school meals entitlement. That is the evidence that was led by the Child Poverty Action Group and One Plus.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

If Mr McAveety, the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, had the ability to read the evidence, he would know that that is the particular evidence—[ Interruption. ]

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

May we have a wee bit of order here?

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

Who wants in first? I will let Mr Rumbles in, then Mr McAveety.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Does Mr Sheridan seriously suggest that it is simply because of stigma that 25 per cent of children do not take up their entitlement to free school meals? Is that what he is trying to con the chamber with?

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP 3:30 pm, 11th June 2003

If Mr Rumbles had listened, he would have heard me say that that was the main reason. Another reason was the unattractiveness of some of the dining hall areas and of some of the meals that were on offer. That was the evidence. Mr Rumbles was supposed to have read it before he voted against free school meals but obviously he did not.

Mr McAveety wanted to make an intervention but it seems that he no longer wants to. Perhaps he has decided that he has read the evidence and has remembered that that was the reason.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Mr Sheridan, I appreciate that things are being said in the heat of the moment, but I do not think that your suggestion that Mr McAveety could not read the report was in order. Let us keep the debate on the politics of the matter.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

I think that you are being overprotective of poor Frank McAveety. He is big enough to look after himself but he did not take the opportunity to make his point clear.

Members have talked about what the proposal would cost. Last year, we were told that it would cost £174 million but now we are being told that it would cost nearer £300 million. That is incredible, especially when we consider that, last year, Glasgow City Council, the biggest local authority in Scotland, was not providing free school meals for all of its primary school children—I will repeat that in case new Labour members did not hear it: all of its primary school children—but now is. The council is providing free breakfasts for all its children, free fruit for all its children and now free meals for all its primary school children. It should be applauded for that. Explaining why the figure for providing free school meals across Scotland has gone up when the biggest local authority in Scotland is already providing its children with free meals is beyond me. The suggestion is a lot of tosh—if you will excuse the expression, Deputy Presiding Officer.

The fact is that the investment that we are talking about would be a small drop in the ocean, but could provide a radical improvement not only in the social cohesion of our communities—by doing away with the stigma of free school meals and the degradation of children that results from them being divided into two groups at the age of five—but in the dietary health of our children. Members should read the report from the University of Glasgow that was in the news today. How much do we spend on treating obesity-related diseases every year? It is some £171 million a year, and rising.

We have an opportunity to make school meal provision universal and to improve the quality of the meals. Is that a cost? It is an investment. When people ask, "Where's the money coming from?" I think to myself that it is strange to think that it is all right to vote to spend £400 million on a Parliament building and £500 million on the M74 and to have an underspend last year of £643 million but that we cannot afford £174 million for free school meals for kids.

I hope that the Tories are becoming more progressive. One of their more progressive members indicated that she might vote for my amendment when, in a debate on 5 June, she raised an issue with Peter Peacock. She said:

"I ask him to take another look at music tuition in schools given that, as the convener of Highland Council, he abolished free music tuition and introduced means testing for music tuition in schools. Many parents throughout the Highlands do not want their financial details to be in council offices to decide whether they are poor enough to be eligible for free music tuition."—[Official Report, 5 June 2003; c 456-7.]

I agree with Mary Scanlon: the kids should get free music tuition without any means test. However, they should also get free school meals without any means test. That is the principle that she should be prepared to adopt today.

I ask the chamber to support the amendment and I make a particular appeal to the Scottish National Party. I listened to what its members said about its amendments, which I supported. At this point, the SNP members are faced with a choice: do they vote for those who are in receipt of child benefit—in other words, for universal provision of school meals—or against them? Given how they voted the last time this was discussed, I hope that they will not be inconsistent and that they will support my amendment.

I move amendment 6.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

It is easy to give Mr Sheridan an answer. He is right to say that we supported the proposal at stage 1. There is a major difference between supporting an amendment at stage 1 and supporting an amendment at stage 3.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

A U-turn? I do not know whether Tommy Sheridan wishes to say that he smells, or otherwise—I do not want to comment on that.

We will not support Tommy Sheridan, as he knows. We will not support the amendment because we believe that we should take a holistic approach to tackling poverty and to improving nutrition. The amendment deals with only one element of that. At issue is whether we should devote all our resources to one element of an antipoverty strategy or whether we should take a much broader approach.

Tommy Sheridan was right to point out that a number of measures can be taken to ensure that nutritional requirements are met. Breakfast clubs are a welcome addition. Other initiatives include provision of free fruit and free school milk. Michael Matheson has proposed a bill that would ensure provision of free milk in schools. We want to take a range of measures, rather than just one.

We welcome the fact that we are opening up a debate on the general issue of school meals. We regret that the minister cannot agree to broaden the range of benefits that are linked to eligibility for free school meals. We seek to ensure that ministers report back to the Parliament after they have considered other possibilities, so that the Parliament may have the opportunity to examine this issue again—without a member's bill needing to be introduced. We want ministers to use their powers under regulations to broaden the base of eligibility for free school meals.

Photo of Carolyn Leckie Carolyn Leckie SSP

Is it the SNP's intention to introduce incremental additions to free provision—free milk, free vegetables and free fruit? Would it not be better just to introduce free school meals?

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

If school lunches were the only food that youngsters ate, that might be a valid argument. However, we want to approach the matter in the broadest sense. The SSP is focusing on one issue. It is quite right—

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

I have taken enough interventions on this point.

The SSP is entitled to its view and I respect that. There are others who agree that universal provision of a benefit is perhaps the easiest option. I do not like means testing. Tommy Sheridan was right to point out that not all members like it—even Tories do not like it. However, we must accept that there are limits to the overall budget. For that reason, we are not prepared to accept at this stage that we should commit ourselves to spending our money on provision of free school meals. We should seek to narrow the gap, but at the moment we do not support the idea of making free school meals a universal benefit.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

At the beginning of his speech, Tommy Sheridan referred to Maggie Lunan of Wellington Parish, Glasgow, who said that she thought that everyone should be prepared to admit when they are wrong. For a split second, I thought that he was going to say that he was wrong. Of course, that was not the case. It was typical Tommy—everyone else is wrong, but he is not.

We have the economics of the real world, rather than the economics of the madhouse that the Scottish Socialist Party seems to want to wish on us. The suggestion that we set up pilot schemes in our secondary schools to see whether universal provision of free school meals works is another issue. However, at stage 1 Rosie Kane said that spending £170 million does not matter and that we should try on principle to provide free school meals. That misses the whole point of the exercise. The SSP would invest more than £200 million in the scheme, when kids are not taking up their entitlement. That would be a massive waste of scarce resources. No one would suggest that the Scottish Executive or the Scottish Parliament has abundant resources. We must ensure that money is used in the most effective way.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

Does the member agree that from now on we should at least examine the experience of Glasgow City Council, given that it has introduced free breakfasts, free fruit and now free school meals for primary school kids? Will the member agree to examine the evidence from Glasgow?

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Tommy Sheridan and I might have a meeting of minds on one point, because that is precisely what I am suggesting. Perhaps we should introduce pilot schemes and examine the issue, but we should not introduce measures at the stroke of a pen and cost the taxpayer several hundreds of millions of pounds. I, for one, am not convinced that what Tommy Sheridan suggests will work at all. The costs go up and up. How much money are we talking about? The costs could be the equivalent of those for the Scottish Parliament building, going up every single year.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

The letter from the Scottish Executive education department, which was written when the First Minister was the Minister for Education, Europe and External Affairs, indicated clearly that the department estimated that the overall cost would be £174 million. In the course of our taking evidence, some councils indicated that they might have capital costs, although they could avoid them by changing the number of dinner sessions during school hours. The figure is £174 million, not several hundreds of millions of pounds.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

In the stage 1 debate, I intervened on Rosie KaneTommy Sheridan's compatriot. I asked how much she was advocating that we spend on this shibboleth, which is what it seems to be. Her response was—members should check the Official Report —that it does not matter how much it costs. How many hundreds of millions are we talking about? Are we talking about £100 million, £200 million, £300 million every year, because of a political idea that is not based in the real world of economics?

I have kids. I know that a lot of kids do not want to eat school meals. I am all in favour of our having nutritious school meals, but is the Scottish Socialist Party suggesting not only that we will provide several hundreds of millions of pounds every year for the meals, but that it will stand over the kids while they eat the food? Is that the next stage?

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

Was that a real question?

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

No, I do not think that it was.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

I did not think so; it was not a very sensible one.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

It was a rhetorical flourish at the end of the member's speech.

Photo of Carolyn Leckie Carolyn Leckie SSP

I speak in support of the amendments in the name of Tommy Sheridan. Members have asked what happens to uptake when a nutritious, tasty school meal is provided. Some members have commented, without examining the facts or experience, that we can take a horse to water but we cannot make it drink.

Some members might have read an article in The Guardian the other week about Mrs Orrey of St Peter's C of E Primary School in East Bridgford in England. She brought school meals back in-house—we will discuss the argument about privatisation another day. The wages of the staff went up. She used organic food. She improved the quality of the food, which was sourced locally—I am sure that the Tories would like that. More than 50 per cent of the costs went on buying food, but the cost of the meal was the same. There were no chief executives, no profits and fewer administration costs. Before Mrs Orrey brought the school meals back in-house, 90 children at the school ate school meals. Now 190 out of 200 children at the school eat school meals. The teachers say that the children are more alert and the children say that they are much more satisfied.

There can be no doubt that the diets of hundreds of thousands of children would be improved by the provision of a free nutritious meal.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I appreciate the point about trying to tackle poverty. Will the member point to the part of the bill that will ensure high nutritional standards so that we get the tasty nutritious meals that she is talking about?

Photo of Carolyn Leckie Carolyn Leckie SSP

That will follow. The member knows that our amendment on legal standards was not accepted. Members get invited to free lunches with fresh sandwiches, salads and chicken. Are they really trying to tell me that in their short lunch breaks they would rather walk down to McDonald's and pay for their food? I do not think so.

That is where parental responsibility comes in. Free school meals means that the responsibility of parents is not to gie their weans cash in the morning. I think that a lot of parents would be quite happy with that responsibility.

It is argued that swipe cards remove stigma, but there is no difference between the stigma of having a dinner ticket stamped with "free school meal" and the stigma of being able to afford only half the lunch of a pal sitting alongside. A free dinner ticket does not entitle its holder to anywhere near the same amount of food. It does not even entitle its holder to a drink.

Photo of Sylvia Jackson Sylvia Jackson Labour 3:45 pm, 11th June 2003

Does the member not accept that swipe cards—which are now used in many local authority schools—do get us over the issue of stigma?

Photo of Carolyn Leckie Carolyn Leckie SSP

They do not get us over the stigma. The swipe card is not worth enough. A child who is entitled to a free school meal does not get the same portion, does not get the same choice, and might not even get the same drink.

It is argued—and let us be clear that this is an argument for means testing—that free school meals for all would be an injustice because the children of MSPs and so on would be able to have a free school meal. The Scottish Socialist Party has a simple answer to that, and it will not surprise members. We would tax more and then redistribute that income. That used to be a fundamental principle of the Labour party. Within the straitjacket of the Parliament's powers, our answer might be difficult in the short term, but really, if Labour members feel that bad, and if their sensibilities are that affected by their weans getting a free dinner, they could make equivalent donations to charities that support children—for example, to NCH or Barnardo's. That might make them feel a wee bit better.

Photo of Carolyn Leckie Carolyn Leckie SSP

I have taken two interventions already and I am about to finish. I remember Cathy Peattie supported free toothbrushes; I hope that she will support universality.

I suspect that it is not conscience that has voted down the amendments, nor worrying about an injustice in relation to privilege or about meals for millionaires. The truth is that voting down the amendments is removing meals from 100,000 children in poverty who would be entitled to free school meals.

Members have voted down increasing access on the basis of council tax benefit, housing benefit and disability living allowance—shame; absolute shame. The Labour party should not kid me that its opposition is to do with worries about feeding the children of millionaires. A total of 95 per cent of the population of Scotland earns less than MSPs do, and it is the 95 per cent that we are talking about. For the sake of the remaining 5 per cent, Labour members are willing to deny 95 per cent of children access to a free nutritious meal. For the sake of 5 per cent of children, MSPs—to avoid injuring their own sensibilities—are prepared to deny the others and send them to bed hungry. A total of £170 million a year is spent on obesity-related diseases; think what could be done if we used £174 million to start to tackle poverty and diet-related illnesses.

Distortions in the arguments and hypocrisy have been laid vividly before the Parliament today. Labour members do not stand condemned by what I say, what Tommy Sheridan says or what Rosie Kane says; they stand condemned by their actions. Last week, Jack McConnell referred to himself as a socialist. I do not know what his idea of socialism is nor what the Labour party's idea of socialism is now, but I know that the SSP and all those in civic Scotland who support free school meals are separated politically from the Labour party by thousands and thousands of miles of clear ocean. The Labour party's so-called socialism makes organisations such as the British Medical Association—who support free school meals—look like militant revolutionaries.

Photo of Carolyn Leckie Carolyn Leckie SSP

I am finishing.

But for the poverty of ambition and principle in the chamber, the spectre of children in Scotland in 2003 not having one proper meal in a day could have been obliterated. We will support the substantive motion following consideration of the amendments. When Rosie Kane's bill comes to the chamber, I hope—perhaps vainly—that principle will rise for once above petty party politics. [Interruption.] Members may sigh—their behaviour will have to be questioned yet again.

I hope that members' consciences may be pricked and that they will be able to walk out of here with their heads held high—but I doubt it.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

I have no problem at all in supporting my Labour colleagues in the Scottish Parliament. The minister will remember—as might Scott Barrie and Marilyn Livingstone—pleading with me on the steps outside the Parliament to take a particular view on the issue. I was very glad that Peter Peacock and other colleagues went down the road of examining the standards of the school meals that are provided across the school meals service and of considering all the school meals issues. I was one of the first members to raise the matter, so I am pleased by the efforts that my colleagues have made.

I will not support the SSP in its demands for universal free school meals, not because I do not believe in the principle of universal free school meals, but because I believe in the language of priorities. Politics is a language of priorities and we in the Scottish Parliament must consider a range of services. Many people in the northern part of my constituency, which is one of the poorest areas in the central belt, have said to me that they would not support the SSP in its demands for universal free school meals. They said that because they wanted to ensure that everyone in Scotland who needs to have an operation for cancer or heart disease—

Photo of Rosie Kane Rosie Kane SSP

Did the member get a chance to tell those people that the Executive is making available £500 million for the construction of an urban motorway through Glasgow? I wonder how they would feel about that misspend.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

There is a simple answer to the member's point. It is easy for any Executive to provide one-off capital expenditure, because it does not involve on-going revenue expenditure, which is recurring expenditure. We in the Parliament must be able to cope with constant demands for revenue. Capital expenditure is a one-off. I have no problem in holding my head high in my constituency. The people whom I represent know that I come here to fight for the priorities that they have asked me to fight for. I have had such discussions with members of my constituency Labour party.

Photo of Mr Bruce McFee Mr Bruce McFee Scottish National Party

Using the language of priorities, will the member explain whether she considers it reasonable that one child who lives in poverty might be entitled to a free school meal, but another child who lives in poverty—who might be living next door—might not be entitled to a free school meal, simply because his or her parents do not receive a particular benefit?

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

In my constituency, there is a very good local authority. Christine May is a former leader of Fife Council, which set very high standards for the way in which it coped with the issue. There might be other local authorities—authorities that are not Labour controlled, for example—that need to up their standards. It is up to those local authorities, not the Labour-controlled authorities, to do that. As parliamentarians, we would take an interest in that process.

Some single parents who are among the poorest people in Scotland phoned me and said, "Up the reds." They said that because they had just had a massive tax credit pay-out. They were so delighted with the Chancellor's efforts to deal with single parents' poverty that they had done a dance round the kitchen table. It is not just a case of using the tool of free school meals to address poverty. There are many ways in which to address poverty, both at Westminster and in the Scottish Parliament.

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

It will be no surprise to members to learn that I ask Parliament to reject amendments 6 and 7. The effect of the amendments would be a close proximity to free school meals. It would not be exact because the percentage take-up of child benefit is only in the high 90s.

I will assist with some costs. Reference was made to the figure of £174 million that was quoted last year as being the additional cost of providing universal free school meals. To answer Mr Sheridan's question, the expert panel's recommendations on improvements to nutritional content and portion size have come into effect. Therefore, the revised additional cost would be in the range of £170 million to £220 million, with a mid-point of approximately £195 million.

Whatever precise costing is put on the effect of amendments 6 and 7—and they can be costed, unlike Fiona Hyslop's amendments—it is a substantial sum of money in anyone's language.

Photo of John Swinburne John Swinburne SSCUP

I have listened patiently to all the discussion and it appals me that members are talking about poverty and absolute poverty. When the minister is giving us his figures, will he tell us what poverty is and what absolute poverty is? Does he have any more definitions? Is there diet poverty or starvation? He should be realistic—if someone is in poverty, they are poor and they require help. Anyone who is in poverty in this country should be getting his help, not being put down the queue because they are only in relative poverty.

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

If the bill is passed, approximately 146,000 children who are in absolute poverty will be entitled to free school meals. As I explained, some of those who are in relative poverty will be covered but the majority of them will not. The member will appreciate that the difference between absolute and relative poverty depends upon a statistical definition.

Even if we had the money, we do not accept that universal free school meals, or even the close proximity proposed by the amendments, are necessary on health or poverty grounds. The provision of free school meals is one of many measures that are intended to abolish child poverty. During the previous debate I described some of the things that we are doing in Scotland, in particular the investments that we are making in education and general health.

Mr Sheridan mentioned today's report about the cost to the health service of obesity being about £170 million—a coincidental figure to the amount that he asks us to spend in amendments 6 and 7. To suggest that free school meals for all would suddenly somehow abolish obesity, or even make a significant impact on it, is not an acceptable correlation.

As part of a cohesive national plan for improving Scotland's physical, mental and social health, we are implementing the Scottish diet action plan, which is an integrated multisectoral strategy based on scientific evidence and in line with the World Health Organisation's goals of tackling diet-related ill health. The plan has particular emphasis on action to tackle health inequalities and improve food access.

Operating throughout the entire food chain, we have led a massive public health education food skills campaign for all Scots, not just schoolchildren. We are introducing improved standards for all public sector catering, not just for the 56 million school meals mentioned in the expert panel's recommendations. We are driving the food industry to respond to ever-increasing demands from consumers for affordable healthier options, and we are working towards clearly defined national dietary targets.

Those are the policies that will tackle the poor diet of Scots and bring about a lasting and sustainable improvement. Amendments 6 and 7 are unnecessary and not affordable, and they will not bring about the changes to which Mr Sheridan aspires, although I acknowledge his commitment to what he says and his consistency in what he says.

Providing universal free school meals is not, in our view, the best use of limited resources. There are better ways of investing our money to address health and social needs for the people of this country and, as I have tried to explain, the Executive is pursuing them. I urge members to reject amendments 6 and 7.

Photo of Sylvia Jackson Sylvia Jackson Labour 4:00 pm, 11th June 2003

On a point of order. A few minutes ago a spokesperson for the SSP alleged that children who get free school meals using swipe cards get meal portions that are different from those that other children get. I checked that with Stirling Council and can say that that does not happen. I guess that it does not happen in other parts of Scotland. I ask Carolyn Leckie to withdraw that allegation.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

That is a perfectly legitimate debating point, but it is not a point of order.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

It is also a false debating point. If the member had listened, she would have learned that in Glasgow, for instance, if someone is in receipt of a free school meal in a school that operates the swipe-card system they have £1.10 on their swipe card. The parents of the children who are not in receipt of free school meals are at liberty to add more money to their swipe cards.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

I will take Mike Rumbles in a moment.

The point is that those children who receive their free school meals via a swipe card are accorded only a small portion of the amount of money for a proper meal. In Glasgow City Council's case—and unlike Sylvia Jackson I visited eight schools in Glasgow—a person cannot have a mega-meal and a drink. They have to add money to the free school meal entitlement in order to take a drink. I hope that that clarifies the point.

Photo of Sylvia Jackson Sylvia Jackson Labour

That is not what Carolyn Leckie said. She said that a person who gets free school meals with a swipe card gets a different portion.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

It is clear that Sylvia Jackson knows that she picked Carolyn Leckie up wrongly. She clearly knows that Carolyn Leckie was saying that the swipe card does not eliminate stigma. It does not matter how much smoke or sand Sylvia Jackson tries to throw into the debate, she is not eliminating stigma; she is maintaining it. That is the reality.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

Does Tommy Sheridan agree that there is a serious issue to do with stigma in some of our secondary and primary schools, and that we have to challenge that stigma, rather than fantasise that having free school meals will somehow hide the problem, because that area is often not where the problem is expressed?

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

I do not know whether the member agrees with me, but I do not think that stigma is attached to going to a state school or to using the national health service. If the school meal service were universal, stigma would not be attached to using it either. That is the way to end the stigma.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

I have taken the member's point, thanks very much.

The way to end the stigma is to tackle it head on by making free school meals universal. We do not charge the kids for their books. We do not charge the kids to use our schools. Members talked about feeding the rich kids. Let us remember that the rich kids do not go to state schools. That is the first point to bear in mind. Secondly, whether a kid is rich or not, in our inclusive Scotland should we not feed every one of our children properly? That is what we should do. If the rich want to send their kids to state schools, let us tax them properly in order that we redistribute their wealth. That is the way that the socialists used to believe those problems were tackled, before they changed and became the new Tory party. Here is a member of the old Tory party.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

Does not Mr Tommy Sheridan accept that, by relative standards, MSPs in Scotland are considered rich? Why should they be specially benefited when there is no need for them to be so?

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

I do not know whether the member is listening, but why would MSPs be specially benefiting when everybody was receiving a free school meal? If we took a straw poll of the well-off MSPs in this chamber, I would not hesitate to estimate that the majority of them had claimed their child benefit. It is probable that most of them did not need their child benefit, but they claimed it because it was a universal benefit. There is a 98 per cent uptake of child benefit, which has the lowest administration cost of any benefit in Britain.

If we were to make our school meals service healthy, nutritious and available to all, we could increase the uptake and thereby increase the quality. Instead of having a service for the poor, which becomes a poor service, we would have a service for all the children of Scotland—one in which every parent in Scotland would have a vested interest, in order to ensure that the service is a good service.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

Two Tories are on their feet. I will take the female one.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

That was another catty comment from Mr Sheridan.

Members of the Scottish Socialist Party say that they take only half their salaries. If SSP members are so concerned about child poverty, why do not they donate half their salaries to children who are living in poverty rather than to their party?

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

The simple answer to that question is that it is much more effective to donate our money to a political party that wants not to deal with the symptoms of poverty but to eradicate poverty from our society. That is what our political party does. It would do the member well to try and live on the average wage of a skilled worker instead of in the ivory tower of someone with a salary of £49,000 per year. She would then be more in touch with the ordinary day-to-day pressures of ordinary people across the whole of Scotland.

After taking the new Tory, I will take the old Tory.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

I thought that Mr Sheridan might at least call me a red.

Will the member satisfy my curiosity with regard to child benefit? Should that benefit be taxable so that the benefit can be recovered from those who are rich?

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

Not in the slightest, but the question would be better addressed to the Labour members who feel that the principle of universality is wrong because it gives food to the children of the rich kids. Strangely, none of the Labour members question child benefit or attack the universal provision of that benefit, yet they attack the universal provision of a meal at school. I would call that an interesting illogic.

I say to Brian Monteith and people like him, who are in receipt of child benefit—if they have children—that I would rather tax them more appropriately so that their wealth is redistributed. That is what universal provision is all about—on the one hand, universal benefits and services are given to all and, on the other, people are taxed progressively to pay for the benefits. The principle is sound. Many of the new Labour members will recognise it—they used to support it.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

No. We have no more time for interventions. I ask Mr Sheridan to sum up.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

Yes, I will do so, but I have taken a number of interventions.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I appreciate that, but it is time to wind up.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

As I said earlier, I promise the Parliament that today is not the end of the debate on free school meals. Members will hear more on the subject. The SSP will bring the issue back to the chamber and we will keep campaigning for it because that is what organisations in Scotland want us to do. We are prepared to listen to organisations such as the Scottish Trades Union Congress, which reaffirmed its support for the measure at its congress two months ago and the Educational Institute of Scotland, which reaffirmed its support only two weeks ago.

We will listen to organisations such as the Scottish Parent Teachers Council, which came to the chamber to give evidence against the School Meals (Scotland) Bill and then decided to overturn that decision at its annual general meeting by voting in support of the bill. That is why we will bring the issue back to the chamber.

The disappointing feature of the debate has not been the position of the old Tories, who could not tell the chamber why it was consistent to support free music tuition in the Highlands but not to support free school meals in the Highlands, or the position of the Liberal or new Labour Tories, who oppose universal provision. I simply hope that we have not witnessed the birth of a new party. Although I have a lot of time for my colleague Brian Adam, I feel that I may be witnessing the birth of new SNP, given the way in which the SNP appears to be moving away from the central principle of universality in relation to school meals. I appeal to my SNP colleagues. They might not have had the commitment in their manifesto, but I can confirm that in all the hustings and debates during the 1 May election campaign, every SNP candidate who spoke said that they were in favour of free school meals. I hope that the SNP will not renege on that commitment today. I hope that the SNP will vote for amendment 6, which would deliver free school meals.

I press amendment 6.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The question is, that amendment 6 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 6

For: Canavan, Dennis, Fox, Colin, Harper, Robin, Kane, Rosie, Leckie, Carolyn, MacDonald, Margo, Sheridan, Tommy
Against: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Mr Richard, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Eadie, Helen, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Fabiani, Linda, Ferguson, Patricia, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Gibson, Mr Rob, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gorrie, Donald, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lochhead, Richard, Lyon, George, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Campbell, Martin, Paul, Mather, Mr Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McFee, Mr Bruce, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Monteith, Mr Brian, Morgan, Alasdair, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Neil, Alex, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Mr Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robison, Shona, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Iain, Smith, Mrs Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, Mr John, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watson, Mike, Welsh, Mr Andrew, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The result of the division is: For 7, Against 93, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 6 disagreed to.

Amendment 4 not moved.

Amendment 5 moved—[Fiona Hyslop].

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The question is, that amendment 5 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 7

For: Adam, Brian, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Fabiani, Linda, Fox, Colin, Gibson, Mr Rob, Harper, Robin, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Kane, Rosie, Leckie, Carolyn, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, MacDonald, Margo, Martin, Campbell, Mather, Mr Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, McFee, Mr Bruce, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Robison, Shona, Sheridan, Tommy, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinburne, John, Swinney, Mr John, Turner, Dr Jean, Welsh, Mr Andrew
Against: Aitken, Bill, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Mr Richard, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gorrie, Donald, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Monteith, Mr Brian, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Mr Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Mrs Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watson, Mike, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The result of the division is: For 30, Against 70, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 5 disagreed to.

[Amendment 7 moved—[Tommy Sheridan].]

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The question is, that amendment 7 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 8

For: Canavan, Dennis, Fox, Colin, Kane, Rosie, Leckie, Carolyn, MacDonald, Margo, Sheridan, Tommy, Swinburne, John, Turner, Dr Jean
Against: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Mr Richard, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Eadie, Helen, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Fabiani, Linda, Ferguson, Patricia, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Gibson, Mr Rob, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gorrie, Donald, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lochhead, Richard, Lyon, George, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Campbell, Martin, Paul, Mather, Mr Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McFee, Mr Bruce, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Monteith, Mr Brian, Morgan, Alasdair, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Neil, Alex, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Purvis, Mr Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robison, Shona, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Iain, Smith, Mrs Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, Mr John, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watson, Mike, Welsh, Mr Andrew, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan
Abstentions: Harper, Robin

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The result of the division is: For 8, Against 92, Abstentions 1.

Amendment 7 disagreed to.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

By stipulating that any regulations must be made under the affirmative procedure, amendment 8 seeks to ensure that the minister comes before Parliament to give an account of the effects of the legislation. The amendment would mean that the minister had to appear before Parliament to answer questions about the regulations and it would ensure that members could amend what was put before them.

Amendment 8 would also allow for progressive change. It seeks to allow the minister to be involved in such a process and, more important, to allow the Parliament to scrutinise the performance of the legislation and argue for effective change. If the amendment is not agreed to, the regulations will be made under the negative procedure, which will not give the Parliament the same opportunity for scrutiny or to amend the minister's proposals.

Let me take a specific example. If amendment 8 is agreed to, we will be able to amend the figure of £13,230, which is regarded as the appropriate income limit under the child tax credit regulations. For technical reasons, we cannot make such amendments in the bill itself. However, amendment 8 would, through its insistence on making regulations under the affirmative procedure, make it possible for us to change that figure in future. That would be a significant step forward. If we do not get the opportunity to make the changes that we have sought today, at least amendment 8 would allow both the Government and the Opposition to revisit the issue regularly after seeing the performance of the legislation in practice.

I move amendment 8.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I support amendment 8. It is essential that we do not let the issue slip away after the vote at decision time at 5 o'clock. We must ensure that the minister comes back to account for his actions and to express a view on why he wants to choose a figure—

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Will the member let me develop my point, please?

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I just want to clarify a specific point.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Amendment 8 would ensure that, when the minister decides through regulations the level of income at which people become eligible to receive free school meals for their children, he must come back to the Parliament to explain his rationale.

In sections 1(2)(b) and 1(3), the bill mentions benefits and so on

"that the Scottish Ministers may by regulations prescribe, in such circumstances as may be so prescribed".

That legal terminology means, in effect, that the minister will arbitrarily decide the level at which eligibility for free school meals will be determined through means testing. From the briefing, we understand that the Executive has chosen the figure of £13,230. Perhaps the minister will take this opportunity to explain why the proposals in the regulations will be based on that amount.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I want to raise a point of information to ensure that the chamber is not confused. I think that I am correct in saying that, even if the minister were to lodge an affirmative instrument, the chamber would be unable at that stage to amend it. I think that that is what Brian Adam has inadvertently suggested. Such an instrument can only be knocked back.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

If the minister were to propose a figure of £13,230 in the regulations, the committee that was considering the matter—perhaps the Education Committee—could challenge him and perhaps persuade him through a vote to withdraw those regulations and come back with other regulations that were based on a more acceptable figure. For example, I tried to ensure that the figure for eligibility for free school meals was based on the Scottish median income.

We have had no justification from the minister of why he wants the means-tested cut-off point for free school meal provision to be £13,230. We have a duty to scrutinise the Executive and, whether the minister likes it or not, to give the Parliament the opportunity to support an amendment that tries to close the gap between the respective figures for children living in poverty and those in receipt of free school meals.

The amendment provides a positive, constructive and transparent means by which we can do that. If we do not act, we will rely on the minister to use the powers and regulations as prescribed in the bill. The minister will have to make that decision and introduce regulations fairly soon because, if he does not, under the bill, the children of someone who earns £40,000 and is in receipt of tax credit will be eligible for free school meals. I know that Tommy Sheridan wants universality and I suggest that he might want to reject the amendment or the regulations full stop. However, the only way in which we can reject the regulations or ask the minister to examine them again is by ensuring that the statutory instrument is given due consideration by the Parliament through the affirmative procedure.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

On a point of information. I agree with everything that Fiona Hyslop said about the policy intention of amendment 8. However, the Parliament could ensure that the minister had to think again even if the regulations were introduced under the negative procedure, which is just used in a different way. I suggest that we all bone up on our subordinate legislation.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

I have two questions for the minister. Is it not the case, as Margo MacDonald said, that all the regulations can be prayed against so that democratic discussion can and would take place in all areas of contention? Will he also confirm that the negative procedure is perfectly adequate to deal with any additional arrangements and regulations that could arise?

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

The SNP has missed an important point in the debate. As I explained at stage 1, we must ensure that the administrative arrangements have legal force by the start of the next academic year to ensure that our children and young people do not lose out. That is the fundamental point and one that I have stressed over and again—the bill is a technical, fast-track measure. In practical terms, the amendment would simply delay that process.

It might help members if I remind them of the impact that the amendment would have. Draft affirmative instruments are not passed until the Parliament has approved them; Parliament has up to 40 days following the laying of the draft SSI in which to do so. However, as none of the necessary parliamentary procedures can take place during the summer recess, we will be into September when the 40-day period begins. That would result in a delay until well into the autumn term of the academic year, which would be an unacceptable and unnecessary delay. We need to put in place the measure by mid-August. I confirm what Margo MacDonald and Lord James said: it is possible—to use Lord James's phrase—to pray against a negative instrument in the way that he and Margo MacDonald described. As I think Margo MacDonald would agree, the negative procedure also involves checks and balances, whereby Parliament can annul an SSI.

Fiona Hyslop mentioned the figure of £13,230. That is not something that I dreamed up; it was the Inland Revenue's assessment of the figure at which the status quo would be maintained. I urge Parliament, for the primary reason of ensuring that the new arrangements are in place for the start of the new academic year, to reject amendment 8.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

I am grateful to members for their contributions to the debate. We believe that an affirmative rather than a negative instrument would allow a freer debate on the matter. I heard what the minister said about a delay. Some people might prefer a delay because—

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

I would like to develop my point.

A delay might open up to a considerable extent the access to free school meals, but I do not think that that was particularly the intention behind amendment 8.

If the minister wishes to come in at this point, I am quite happy to let him intervene.

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

I am simply trying to reinforce the point that we do not want a problem to develop in August and September with people not being entitled to free school meals. That is the point that I was trying to make.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

I accept that point, but I am suggesting that although amendment 8 might not go quite as far as the universality of child benefit, what it proposes is not far short of that. That was not the specific intention of the amendment, however, and, having heard the debate, I will not press it to a vote.

Amendment 8, by agreement, withdrawn.

[Section 1 agreed to.]